BITTERBLUE by Kristin Cashore – a review


Back cover blurb:  Bitterblue is now queen of Monsea, still under the influence of her father Leck, a violent psychopath who altered minds. Her advisers want to pardon evildoers and forget everything, but she sees the past holds fast. Two thieves, who only steal what has been stolen, hold the truth and change her life. One, his Grace skill unidentified, has a key to her heart.

My review:

I recently finished Bitterblue by Kristin Cashore and I have to say it is up there among my favorite books.

I’ve read a lot of reviews of this book and in my opinion, the lower-ranking reviews were unfair, though understandable.  Cashore’s first book, Graceling, set the stage for an EPIC tale.  The world was richly woven, the characters complex and quirky.  The love affair open, honest, selfless.  No strings attached.  I suppose those who picked up Bitterblue were expecting the same sort of ‘Epic-ness’, a novel with intensity and a high action plot.  But Bitterblue, the main character, is not Katsa from Graceling.  Her journey is quite different.  The trajectory of the story is not the same.  I, personally, loved the difference in these two books. They are not reliant on each other.  The plots are independent yet intertwined.  They are two stories containing the same characters, each heroine dealing with who they are, what they are to become, and trying to find their way in a confusing, disjointed world.

In Graceling, Katsa set out to end the tyranny in Monsea.  Bitterblue picks up nine years later.  Our heroine, Queen Bitterblue, is trying to understand her role as queen amidst a kingdom she doesn’t know or understand.  The plot line moves along slowly at times, giving us time to absorb information at the same rate as our heroine.  We see her predicaments through her eyes.  We feel her feelings. We experience her exasperations as if we are in the same room with her.  We unlock the mysteries, the clues together.  It’s a wonderful experience.

I love that the plot is so unpredictable and the way Cashore weaves all the characters together is brilliant. It read like a who-done-it in a way.  Cashore was brilliant at dropping clues and hints for Bitterblue and the reader to figure out.  There is such a huge network of betrayal and sorting out the good from the bad is time-consuming and mind-bending.  I also believe Cashore deals with very sensitive issues in a loving, caring manner, exposing the bitterness and harshness of realities but wrapping them all up in hope and warm, soothing light, showing teens that no matter how harsh reality is, there is always a new beginning.

I also like the way Cashore treats the topic of young feminine sexuality.  Both with Katsa and Bitterblue, the discovery of their own sexuality is honest, careful and liberating.  Unlike a certain recent urban romance series, Katsa and Bitterblue both make active choices with regards to their romantic companionship.  The men they choose are handsome and there is always a friendship first, someone they develop a long-term commitment to without the stigma of love and marriage.  It is through trials and tribulations and mistakes and grand intentions gone wrong that these women experience love the way it should be experienced.  The chemistry is there, yet they feel strong enough in themselves they can walk away.  They don’t NEED their men to complete them.  They want them. Desire them, but more than anything, all parties respect each other and their spirits are completely compatible.  Marriage is not pressed as a required state for feminine sexuality to take place.  Many parents may find this bothersome, but I found it liberating and a wonderful message to  young girls that they need to be strong in themselves and they don’t need men to make them into something, but rather they desire them to compliment who and what they are.  I did have a small issue with what seemed to me was the equivalent of a ‘morning after pill’, but considering the character, her choice was understandable.

I am giving this book 4.5 stars.  It is a great companion book to Graceling and Fire, (I have not read the latter).   It is on my TBR list and I’m sure I will find it as engaging as Graceling and Bitterblue.  Kristin Cashore is definitely on my list of fave YA authors, and I am looking forward to her next novel.

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Graceling – A Review


From the back cover:

Katsa has been able to kill a man with her bare hands since she was eight –     she’s a Graceling, one of the rare people in her land born with an extreme skill. As niece of the king, she should be able to live a life of privilege, but Graced as she is with killing, she is forced to work as the king’s thug.

When she first meets Prince Po, Graced with combat skills, Katsa has no hint of how her life is about to change.

She never expects to become Po’s friend.

She never expects to learn a new truth about her own Grace – or about a terrible secret that lies hidden far away…

My Review:

I don’t know what’s wrong with me.  This book came out in 2008 and it was always on my TBR list but I didn’t get around to it until the end of 2013.  Why did I wait so long?  This book is exceptional on so many levels, I don’t even know where to begin.

I’m not going to bore you and recap what the book is about as I already posted the back cover blurb.  I will say this is a fantasy novel I will read again and again.  GRACELING is confidently and smoothly written.  It’s fresh and new.  The plot moves along at a great clip…not too fast, not too slow.  Cashore gives the reader time to ponder the characters, the scenes as she takes you from one to the other.  The reader has time to absorb the plot, the scenery, the character interactions.  It’s breathtaking to not be rushed from one intense scene to the next.  Never once did I feel bored or have the need to skim to get to the next exciting part.  The story unfolds naturally.  Exquisitely. The dialogue has a classic style about it and there is a timeless energy in Cashore’s writing style.

The characters are wonderfully engaging.  Katsa is a fantastic heroine.  She’s strong but not sassy.  She’s far from predictable, and yet at the same time, the other characters know not to mess with her.  She’s not a typical, sassy heroine.  She’s a skilled fighter and has been since a young age.  She is conflicted, torn between what is right and what she needs to do to survive.  She’s wary, but not afraid.  She’s strong but vulnerable.  She has no desire to marry and she stands firm to that belief, though there is nothing to keep her from experiencing life’s pleasures.  She is headstrong, not on the delicate side, and yet there are moments where the reader senses a childlike devil-may-care attitude, even aloofness that makes her endearing.  She is definitely an odd mix of personality which makes her real and extremely likeable.

Katsa has a wonderful cast of supporting characters:  Helda, her attendant, Oll, Raffin (her off beat, loveable cousin), and The Council, a grassroots sort of political group determined to bring fairness, honesty and peaceful leadership to the seven kingdoms of the realm.  There is not one person or kingdom unnecessary in the telling of this story or what they mean to Katsa.

The biggest surprise for me was Katsa’s love interest, Po.  I am so happy this is not another one of those ‘twitterpated’ love stories that makes me want to gag.  Po is a prince, Graced like Katsa, in search of his grandfather who was kidnapped.  But Po turns out to be so much more than a love interest.  His character is so deep and the perfect match for such a strong heroine.  He is the catalyst that drops the wall Katsa has built around herself.  My heart is drawn to him because of his unconditional love for Katsa.  It is a pure, unselfish love with no strings, no expectations.  Completely and absolutely refreshing.

I was captivated and mesmerized by Cashore’s writing.  I couldn’t put it down.  At the end of every chapter I kept telling myself, “Just one more.”

GRACELING is a Young Adult novel and I would recommend it for readers 14 and up.  For parents, you should know there are some scenes of violence and sexual intimacy, but none of them are graphic or gratuitous.  I’ve read other YA books that ‘show’ so much more. 

So, in closing, GRACELING is an engrossing read with mesmerizing characters, a truly satisfying romance that is far from mushy, and a plot that will hold you spellbound.  Cashore knows how to weave and tell a compelling tale.  GRACELING is completely worth the read and the tired, blood-shot eyes that come along with it.

Rating:  5 stars

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Under the Never Sky – a Review


under the never skyWhile in Ft. Myers for two weeks, I picked up Under the Never Sky by Veronica Rossi.  I wasn’t sure if I was going to like it, but my mind was quickly changed. Within the first 5 pages I was hooked. I absolutely loved this book and can’t wait for the sequel to come out.

The story was unlike any I’ve read before. I liked the authenticity of it, the grittiness of it. The story is told from male (Perry) and female (Aria) points of view. At first, the alternating chapters were a little hard to get used to, but I immediately fell into the cadence and looked forward to each character’s view of the world.

I loved watching Aria grow from being an outcast and sent to die in the outer wasteland known to her and her kind as the Death Shoppe, to her becoming a strong, warrior-like woman, who can survive cannibal attacks, dangerous and violent electrical Aether storms, and savages.

I enjoyed that Aria and Perry were so very different from each other. Aria was born in Reverie, an enclosed city. Everything is ‘perfect’ in Reverie – genetically modified perfect. Life is pristine, clean, safe. Procreation occurs scientifically. Girls don’t get pregnant. They don’t have periods. People don’t get ill. Physical ailments don’t exist. On the outside, where the savages (Perry) lives, the world is quite the opposite.

Each Aria and Perry are on their own journey when they find each other. I like that this story isn’t a typical romance. Their trust and respect for each other comes slowly. It’s tried. They both have something the other wants, but the information isn’t given freely or easily. The sheltered girl and the savage must learn to rely on each other’s strengths to get them through the journey they share together. I fell in love with both characters and the supporting cast.

The world-building is well done. It’s not thrown at the reader all at once. Instead, we’re treated to layers built upon layers over time. There is the technical, perfect Domes of Reverie, and the dangerous, desolate and devastating environment of the Death Shoppe. Each one plays their own roles in Aria’s and Perry’s quest – they both need something from the worlds opposite their own, and they need each other to find it.

I did find Aria a bit whiny in the beginning, but then again, considering her background, I can understand it. I had the impression that Perry was much older than Aria, so when the ‘romance’ began to bloom between them, I was a little weirded out. Then I found out his age and I was okay with it. Even though they are both teens, Perry still seems far more older than Aria, mentally, which gives me the ‘older man/younger woman’ vision in my head. It could be that she’s so naive and her body is ‘waking up’ at the age of 17 that gives me that impression. I found Perry’s description of Aria’s first ‘awakening’ at becoming a woman a little bizarre, funny, creepy and endearing. I’ve never heard a woman’s first menstrual cycle described in such a manner.

If I had to compare it to another book, I’d have to say it has some similar elements as Graceling. It is a dystopian, and while the book is aimed at fans of The Hunger Games, this novel is nothing like The Hunger Games. I will say it should appeal to more older teens – the 16 and up age group. There is some drinking, some mild violence (nothing like what was in The Hunger Games), and one sex scene that was handled with kid gloves (I like this approach in YA rather than full out hot and heavy sex scenes). If you enjoyed Blood Red Road, I think you’ll enjoy Under the Never Sky.

Next week I begin reading the second in the trilogy: Through the Ever Night. I can’t wait.